Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Feasibility of Alternative Fuels

Every time fuel prices spike there is renewed public interest in alternative fuels. Popular Mechanics has a very interesting article that explores the various potentially feasible automobile fuel replacements. (Hat tip: Tyler at the Wasatch Front) The article also discusses diesel trucks a little bit, but it doesn’t deal at all with energy used by facilities, airplanes, trains, boats, etc. So you won’t see anything about wind, solar, or nuclear power.

PM joins most every other expert I know of in the belief that there is no single solution that can replace oil. The article goes beyond mere laboratory tests to discuss how the various featured fuels work and have the potential of working in real life.

I was glad to see PM consider the issues of money, distribution, and environmental costs. So many times, those that are excited about an alternative fuel gloss over money and distribution, which are the elephants in the living room. I was disappointed to see the issues of replacement and disposal of batteries and fuel cells completely ignored.

The article has a PDF comparison chart that attempts to show the cost and feasibility of driving across the country using the various fuels discussed. I have been watching my electrical bill go up, so I was surprised to see that a fully electric vehicle would be by far the least expensive in fuel cost alone. Of course, since you have to recharge overnight every 100 miles, it could take you months to make the trip. I was also a little shocked to see that it would take a ton of coal to generate the fuel for the trip. No wonder we still have so many coal-fired electrical plants. Coal is cheap.

The article also brought up an interesting point in its discussion of natural gas. It said that the cost of natural gas “is a bargain compared to gasoline,” mainly because of the taxes added to gasoline. Does anyone really think that government would not find a way to get its share of any alternative fuel that comes into broad use? We have to fund the roads we drive on somehow. Politicians aren’t simply going to sit around and watch funding dry up.

One thing is clear from reading this article. Even with high gas prices, we’re not going to experience a massive shift to alternative fuels any time soon.

1 comment:

Utah Peaknik said...

I'm glad to see that you've brought up the subject of energy.

Call me a "doomsdayer," but the energy situation appears to be grimmer than most people realize. Read both pages on

And note that the website is replete with references, links and figures to back everything up. It's not written by some wacko-apocalyptic nut.

When it comes to talk of alternative fuels, the biggest joke of them all is hydrogen. First of all, hydrogen fuel cells require platinum, which is already scarce and needed for many other industrial purposes. There's no way we could all drive hydrogen fueled cars. And as Matt Savinar explains, the electrolysis process needed for hydrogen production consumes more energy than it puts off.